Tribute: Irene Frangs
Rinio as we came to know her, a larger-than-life South African Free State Greek girl, walked into our lives one evening at the Troubadour, Johannesburg in the early sixties. She had recently arrived back in SA from England, where she had been doing folk music research for Maud Carpeles. She was dressed in a big kaftan, and knew all the songs and then some. We quickly realized that this new friend was a musician of a special kind: her passion was the human voice. A singer herself, she became part of the folk music scene in Johannesburg, and unravelled for us mysteries like modes, head voice and chest voice, breathing, grace notes, and other things you only learned at universities and academies, and all this in a coffee bar on the left bank of the railway in Johannesburg.
Aside from her encyclopaedic knowledge of music, Irene possessed coveted and rare talents. She had perfect pitch, and she read music like mere mortals read the newspaper. She was a priceless resource, a musical director and teacher in our midst, sharing her passion and her energy with generosity and warmth. Music and song were the catalysts in our lifelong friendship.
When we moved from the coffee bars into the theatres, and started to produce musicals and revues, Rinio was on the team from day one. I think we were the first in South Africa to coin the term "Vocal Coach", a role she fulfilled in every recording and every stage show we did. She didn't even need a keyboard while teaching harmonies to a group. She would sing the baritone, tenor, soprano and contralto parts with flair, and then get us to put it all together the way it was meant to sound.
She also became one of the top session singers in the studios, and her distinctive voice is on a host of South African recordings.
When eight years ago she decided to leave South Africa to teach in America, she joined Louis Burke in Connecticut, where she has lived ever since. We have missed her terribly, but we always knew she was there, doing what she loved and did best: getting the most out of talented.
News of her sudden death comes as a great sadness to all of us who worked with her, and counted her as a friend and a sister. She leaves behind all that she taught us, and we salute her memory, a true maestro. Heaven is reputed to specialise in heavenly choirs. We know that Rinio is teaching parts up there already, and having the kind of fun that carried with her down here as she took us through our vocal exercises.
Sing it for us, Rinio, we'll never forget you.
Theatre Managements of South Africa
Tel: 011 487 1800
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